Columbia Heights, Minnesota
By Gabe Hewitt, iLander Student Editor
What if you or your friends or siblings were stolen from your families to be a part of a brutal general’s army? That’s exactly what the Lord’s Resistance Army’s Joseph Kony did for decades in central Africa.
Now, in just over a week, a video about him called “Kony 2012” has racked up nearly 80 million views on YouTube, making it the most viral video in history.
Kony 2012 is a campaign by Invisible Children Inc., a non-profit organization founded in 2004. The organization’s purpose is to bring awareness to the Kony’s group and its practices, such as child abuse, child abduction and forcing children to become soldiers. The goal of Kony 2012 is to make Kony, the International Criminal Court’s most wanted criminal, internationally known.
In the 30-minute film, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell describes the LRA’s history and tactics. He also explains Invisible Children’s efforts to stop Kony and tells people what to do to help with his capture.
The campaign became known mainly through social media on March 5. Social networking websites seemed to explode overnight with status updates, tweets and videos about Kony 2012 as the film and campaign went viral.
Much of the the movement is youth-based. One of the youth involved is 2009 Heights graduate Kelsey Batkiewicz. She’s the vice president and events coordinator for Invisible Children’s University of Minnesota chapter, and became involved with the organization her freshmen year after seeing a film by Invisible Children about child soldiers. Since then, she’s been involved with multiple projects.
“I’ve really discovered my true passion in advocating for others and trying to make a difference in this world,” she said.
The campaign has also reached Heights teens. CHHS Sophomore Brooke Malisheski said it’s amazing how so many people knew about it and were already doing something about it.
“Even though America isn’t directly affected by it, everyone in the world should work together as one,” she said.
CHHS Sophomore Eddie Kuzko learned about child soldiers in one of his classes last year and says the campaign brings awareness to a forgotten topic.
“Children should be able to live in happiness and not fear that they might be taken to a military or rebel camp,” he said.
While the campaign has gotten much support, it’s also received criticism. Some have called the movement a scam, questioning the organization’s financials and how much of the donations and merchandise sales go into the campaign. Others say that the organization has used false and outdated information. Invisible Children had planned a tour to screen the video for Ugandans across that country, but the move was sometimes violently shouted down.
The organization issued a press release to critics on its website.
Invisible Children members, including Batkiewicz, have also on their own dismissed critics.
“There has been a lot of criticism with the increased awareness of this organization,” she said. "The fact is Invisible Children is very open with both their mission and their financials.”
Batkiewicz said Kony 2012 will only be successful if people stay interested in the cause and keep talking about it.
“My hope for people is that they will do their research and know their facts,” she said. “They do not need to support Kony 2012 or Invisible Children at all, but it can be agreed upon that Kony needs to be stopped.”